Remembering Things Change

BY KELLY JEAN COGSWELL | One thing you have to have as an activist, or even a voter, is the bottom-line belief that change is possible, and not just for the worse. I base my own belief on observations of nature. I guess you could call me a Darwinist.

Putting aside the evolution of our species, it's inarguable that water carves its way through rock, even if only drip by drip. Rivers change course. Unexpected things and people emerge. There are Ghandis sometimes. Sometimes two-headed calves. I'd been on the verge of forgetting until last week when I suddenly saw a boar in the Fountainebleau Forest.

My girlfriend heard something moving, caught sight of the tusks and shouted for me to look, which made it run faster. What I saw was actually a piggish blur, charcoal black, and light on its feet. Before that we'd seen little bits of rumpled up soil all over the trails where some creature had been rooting, and here and there strange hoof prints that seemed to come from a small horse with toes.

It was sheer luck we saw one in the afternoon. Most of the spottings are at dawn or dusk, and we wouldn't have been in that part of the woods at all if I hadn't gotten us lost. Maybe I should do that more often. Don't look, but leap. So often what we see with our eyes is paralyzing. Like the news on TV.

Lately, it's Kenya at the top of the hour, where in a matter of weeks a contested election has degenerated into a bloody mess. The TV shows corpses lying in the road, currently the end sum of political scores. I wonder how soon it will be before the news breaks of masses of women getting raped, and queers lynched. Those old depressing wartime favorites.

I can't watch anymore, those high and low-tech wars, the slaughters and assassinations. There's the US election where the candidates remind us of the inherently dirty nature of politics where compromise, ambition, and power leave their own ugly marks. I shouldn't blame them when it's really too many years of Bush-watching that has instilled in me a perpetual and numbed self-loathing.

I'm an American after all, and America these days is synonymous with the Iraq War that destabilized the whole Middle East, and Bush's “War on Terror” which was really a war on civil liberties that gave free reign to pretenders like Putin. Now, the stock markets everywhere are collapsing thanks to the receding American economy. In short, we have a president whose inverted Midas touch turns everything to shit.

So, I was surprised to be surprised by the boar fleeing through the woods. And on Saturday I saw something even more astounding, the report that in Morocco 100 intellectuals had published an open “Appeal for the Defense of Individual Rights” in a dozen journals, calling on the state to react to the “climate of intellectual terrorism” and denouncing the trial and conviction of six men “without proof” that only took place at the instigation of a rampaging mob.

In November, when a rumor of a gay wedding hit the streets of Ksar El Kebir, so did thousands of Islamists who demonstrated and clashed with police until civil forces caved in to the pressure and several men were arrested. They were summarily convicted, and the sentence upheld on appeal last week, though some of the sentences were slightly reduced.

The vitriol even among the usually more balanced press matched the hysteria we've seen in Egypt and Namibia. What a hate campaign. The sermons from the imams would curl your hair along with the violence of the demonstrators who have been primed to destroy on behalf of the “moral” and the “pure.”

In Morocco, it's not just queers under attack. The letter stated that for the last few years there's been an increasing campaign against anybody who “because of their taste, beliefs, opinions, or personal choices, are accused of 'offending Muslim sensibilities' and 'menacing traditional values of Moroccans.'” The offenders, mostly journalists, writers, artists, and fighters for human rights, are in essence excommunicated from society, and crowds are encouraged toward physical violence, “In other words, to threaten lives,” in the letter's formulation.

Intellectuals had to do something. Queers are the canary in the coal mine for human rights. If they sacrifice us to the mob, even worse will follow. What surprised me, here, was that in the accompanying explanation of this open letter for personal liberties, the community of mostly heterosexual intellectuals admitted that one of the last straws for them had been, “the scandalous 'homo hunt' at Ksar El Kebir,” bringing us openly into the room, and declaring solidarity. “You aren't alone.”

For a change.